DOL budget emphasizes big fines for safety violations

Under a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposal announced Feb. 7, worker safety and health would see a 0.6 percent budget increase in fiscal 2006, with an emphasis on compliance enforcement and increased civil penalties for egregious child labor law and mine safety violations.

“In fiscal 2006 we will continue to focus on enhancing worker safety and health,” DOL Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced in a briefing.

DOL said it plans to spend $747.5 million on worker safety and health, with $467 million earmarked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—$2.8 million more than last year’s appropriation.

Reducing workplace fatalities by 15 percent and workplace injuries and illnesses by 20 percent are among OSHA’s goals through 2008, and the agency plans to take a tough stand on employer violations. The proposed $2.8 million budget increase—plus a $1.4 million budget increase for the Mine Safety and Health Administration—targets those activities.

Under DOL’s budget proposal, fines for child labor law violations that result in death or serious injury of a youth would more than quadruple from the current $11,000 to $50,000, and would climb to $100,000 for “repeat and willful violations.” Penalties for egregious mine safety violations would increase from $60,000 to $200,000.

The request for an additional $1 million to expand compliance assistance programs in states that operate their own OSHA programs underscores the enforcement emphasis, noted Jonathan L. Snare, OSHA’s acting assistant secretary of labor. The money would enable those states to add a compliance officer who could focus on establishing more Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) sites, setting up new cooperative agreements, and expanding training and outreach.

There were 993 VPP federal sites in fiscal 2005, and Snare expects that number to increase to 1,264 in fiscal 2006. An estimated 37,700 workplace inspections are planned for fiscal 2006, the same number as in 2002, 2003 and 2004, Snare said.

OSHA also maintains overall responsibility for the national worker injury and illness recordkeeping system, and its budget proposal includes a $1 million increase to get timely data.

The agency’s big spending reduction, totaling $10.2 million, is the elimination of its Susan Harwood grants program for safety training programs and materials in nonprofit organizations. Snare noted that OSHA did not see significant cuts, unlike some DOL departments.

A breakdown of OSHA’s budget for FY 2006:

    • $174.3 million for federal enforcement, a $4.6 million increase over fiscal 2005

    that Snare characterized as an inflationary increase to maintain its various programs.

    • $92 million for state programs, a $1 million increase to go to the 26 states with their own OSHA programs to add a compliance officer.

    • $73.3 million for federal compliance assistance, a $2.4 million increase. This area provides support that includes training and outreach for compliance assistance to employers and employees, especially small businesses.

    • $16.6 million for safety and health standards, a $600,000 increase.

    • $21.7 million for technical support, a $1 million increase to allow OSHA to develop a predictive model to help it report performance measurement data shortly after the close of the fiscal year. Areas of expertise include industrial hygiene, environmental impact statements and equipment calibration.

    • $53.9 million for state consultation grants, a $500,000 increase. This supports 90 percent of federally funded cooperative agreements with designated state agencies to provide free on-site consultation to employers on request, according to DOL.

    • $24.5 million for safety and health statistics, a $2.3 million increase that includes an increase of $1 million to improve data analysis and performance measurement.

    • $10.7 million for executive direction and administration, a $600,000 increase.

    • Eliminating $10.2 million for training grants.

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